In uncertain financial times, marketers return to the basics -- accountability, flexibility and cost efficiency. These, more than any other online marketing strategies, typify paid search marketing. They also explain the remarkable growth of paid search (pay-per-click, display and other contextual ads). According to AdAge, during the recession of 2001, online paid advertising increased more than 175 percent and another 210 percent the following year.
Paid search has continued to grow and will be particularly active during the next downturn.
1. Measurable results
Unlike traditional media, paid search marketing can be closely and easily tracked. A click on a paid search ad is a digital event that can be recorded, analyzed and compared to benchmarks and goals. A robust conversion analytics tool helps marketers quantify their goals and see what's working and where, while looking at trends and the competitive landscape. Advertisers can see at a glance what the return has been on their investment and what factors are affecting these figures.
2. New competitive opportunities
Paid search allows marketers to buy their way onto the first search engine results page for selected keywords with what potential customers might be searching. Research conducted on our company's clients found a likely increase in site traffic per keyword of more than 500 percent after two months and an increased conversion rate of more than 190 percent. In other words, it levels the playing field with competitors whose sites have established better natural search positions on the search engines.
3. New creative opportunities
Since the advent of Universal Search from Google in 2007, and similar changes from other major search engines, consumers are seeing some very different looking search engine results pages (SERPs). The SERPs might include images, videos, press stories and maps. To help advertisers be seen in this new search environment, Google and others now accept a new generation of PPC ads consisting of more than text, and incorporating a variety of media such as video.
4. Delivering a targeted audience
New geo-targeting and contextual advertising opportunities offer marketers a chance to define and deliver their messages to those they want to reach. Geo-targeting -- such as a Midwest ski resort advertising on SERPs related only to Midwest winter travel -- makes it possible for marketers to deliver paid ads based on location. There's little waste. In similar fashion, contextual ads on sites of known interest to a market provide a more targeted and effective approach.
5. Tailoring the message to behavior
The latest generation of online ads can match ad placement and content to an individual's online search behavior. People who search for restaurants late in the work week might find coupon ads for local weekend dining placed on sites they routinely visit on Thursdays and Fridays. Another person who searches for tennis racquets and later travel bargains might find a free tennis travel case as an incentive in an ad for a tennis resort.
6. Affordable entry into new markets
Expanding into new markets, especially during difficult economic times, is a particularly effective way to stay competitive. For small and mid-size businesses, this type of expansion is critical. Many seeking to expand their reach, as traditional outlets for their goods and services are constricting, have effectively turned to new markets through paid search.
7. More media flexibility
With most traditional media, once an ad is printed, aired or otherwise published, there's little to be done except watch how things play out. With paid search, keywords, creative and copy can all be adjusted quickly before and during a campaign, if necessary. And paid search can be an effective asset when coordinating traditional media strategies. Test promotional offers, ad copy or creative in PPC ads, then translate the most successful into a traditional advertising campaign.
8. Quick results
There are few online marketing tactics that offer quicker results than PPC ads. In the case of text ads, the turnaround from creative to placement is a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. With good analytics installed, the feedback can be analyzed and the ad creative modified again and again if necessary. And in very short order, the most effective version of the ad can be generating tangible results.
In most cases, natural (SEO) and paid search campaigns perform better together than they do separately. Individually, SEO campaigns frequently prove more cost effective over the long haul, while paid search can provide a more immediate, but less permanent boost in performance.
Using SEO and paid search together builds synergy and greater effectiveness over doing one or the other separately. Greater awareness of a website created by a paid ad can lead to more natural traffic. In similar fashion, people are logically more likely to click on the paid promotional ad of a brand they've seen listed in the results.
Recently, my company, Oneupweb, completed a white paper on paid search marketing. As part of this paper, we conducted some research, looking at three different companies and the results obtained by integrating SEO and paid search marketing. With the first client, we found that they were successfully able to extend their usual buying season by three or four months when adding a paid search campaign to their ongoing natural campaign.
A second client was able to increase natural and paid traffic during an already busy selling season by adding a well-coordinated paid search campaign. A third client, who already had a very successful SEO campaign, added a regular non-seasonal series of paid ads, and their combined site traffic showed a steady rise.
These three examples were taken from three very different marketers, in three very different industries. What they had in common was tangible success integrating paid and natural search.
So how do marketers go about integrating their natural search presence and paid search into an effective marketing plan?
Here are a few tactics to consider:
1. Use consistent strategies, themes and graphics
Marketing strategies should logically evolve from a marketer's goals; campaign themes need to work together and, when necessary, effectively stand alone. Each component should share common graphic elements rendering a strong family resemblance recognizable wherever it appears. This is done by establishing and applying graphic and copy standards.
2. Establish a consistent message
Corporately, this message should already exist as part of a marketer's branding strategy. Is it "the fast, affordable source," or "the resource for customized work"? Each new campaign can have its own message, one offer building on the next and cross-promoting each by repeating messages and promotions that have proven effective.
3. Use similar keywords
A marketer's website should include keyword-rich copy that has been optimized. Create and test new keyword phrases being used by customers. Wherever practical (i.e., the costs for these terms are not too excessive), use those same keywords for paid search campaigns.
4. Create a complementary media mix
Public relations efforts and website content should support ads and promotions announcing new products before the ad campaign breaks. Catalog promotions should dovetail with PPC offers. Even customer service email campaigns can support advertising messages by touting new product lines or services.
5. Make sure the media fits
A media mix should reflect a company's marketing strategy and be appropriate to what it's selling, its target audience and sales season. During the holiday gifting season, for example, it may be appropriate to sell computer games on some sites of interest to adults 40 and over; however, there would be considerable waste during the rest of the year when teens and younger adults are more likely to do the buying.
6. Coordinate campaigns offline
Look at tying paid online advertising campaigns to offline advertising efforts. Specifically, in print ads use similar graphics, headlines and offers to those used online; list landing page addresses where consumers can get specially coded coupons or product-specific information and promote separate phone lines leading into central call centers for tracking.
7. Be responsive to inventory
Coordinate promotions with the company inventory and sales calendar so that potential sales aren't lost because the items referenced are not in stock. Monitor internal inventory and adapt promotions accordingly. For major seasonal sales promotions, plan campaign integration efforts a full six months in advance. There may be a large list of items that could and should be promoted, and each might have its own set of time and approval parameters.
8. Look for "upsell" opportunities
Marketers' websites should include an "also purchased" or "related items" list of products frequently purchased with such products (i.e., the rechargeable battery pack with their mobile device, the color-coordinated sweater that goes with the blouse, etc.).
Overall, it should be a relatively good year for online marketers -- particularly those who plan, use and integrate paid and natural search.